Mess dress is still regularly worn by officers in all the branches of British military service. An essential part of this order of dress is a dress shirt, very similar in style to a civilian shirt worn with a dinner jacket or tuxedo. Tonight we have an example of one of those military issue shirts to look at:From the label we can see that this shirt is for men of all three services to use, there are no specialist variants for the army etc:This shirt is specifically referred to as having a ‘Marcella’ front:‘Marcella’ is a type of piqué weaving that gives a distinctive waffle effect to fabric and it is ideally suited to evening wear as it holds starch much better than regular cotton so allowing the fronts of shirts to be heavily stiffened. Other areas typically stiffened are also made of the same fabric, here the collars:And cuffs:The collar of this shirt is interesting in having a rise and fall collar, rather than the wing collars of previous generations:The shirts are available in a range of sizes, as indicated by the stores catalogue:As well as formal mess dress, the shirts are also worn in a variety of semi-formal orders of dress. For the Royal Navy this is known as ‘Red Sea’ Rig and consists of smart trousers, dress shirt, cummerbund with the ship’s badge on it and no bowtie. In the Army this is often referred to as ‘planters’ and replicates the evening wear worn in the tropics by tea planters- mess dress but without the jacket and either with or without bowtie. These forms of dress are not official and are not listed in any military order of dress, however they are very common and the exact nature of them is set by the mess itself: these orders of dress being much more comfortable for a night of enjoyment than full mess dress.
A few weeks ago we looked at a commemorative mug from HMS Ark Royal. At the same time I picked that up, I also bought this example commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of HMS Seahawk at Culdrose in Cornwall:The mug depicts the ship’s badge along with the dates 1947 and 1997:RNAS Culdrose, also known as HMS Seahawk was and indeed still is one of the biggest employers in this part of Cornwall and has an essential part to play in the local economy, even down to such mundane things as getting the orders to produce these commemorative mugs:The Golden Jubilee celebrations were clearly a source of great pride to the base and the local area, the March 1997 issue of the Navy News reported:
RN Air Station Culdrose is planning a host of events to celebrate its Golden Jubilee this year.
HMS Seahawk, to use its other name, opened on April 17 1947, when a Fairey Firefly made the first official landing.
Today the air station is the largest helicopter base in Western Europe, but plans are afoot to capture the spirit of its early days.
On April 17th an exhibition of historic photographs will be opened by the Commanding Officer, Commodore Simon Thornewill, followed by a fly past by Culdrose’s modern aircraft.
On the same day, a Buccaneer, will be flown into the air station by a Chinook helicopter where it will remain on display.
And on July 25 a special ‘veteran’s day’ will be held for all ex-Seahawk personnel and their families when more than a dozen historic aircraft will be on display.
Two of the veterans who visited on that day in 1997 were twins Malcolme and Alf Jones who had been the two escorts for the colour on the initial parade in 1950 when the base was given the freedom of the old Helston Borough nearby:The base has now been open for over seventy years and I am sure big plans will be made to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its opening in a few years’ time- no doubt commemorative mugs will again be produced for that milestone!
On 25th April every year the people of Australia and New Zealand, together with the Cooke Islands, Pitcairn Islands and Tonga commemorate their fallen on Anzac Day. The 25th April 1915 was the day Anzac troops first landed on the Gallipoli peninsular in World War One and a year later it was officially inaugurated as a half day holiday to remember the sacrifices of Anzac troops. From the very start it was designed to be a non-denominational day of remembrance with a two minutes silence in honour of those who would not be returning. This was chosen in preference to prayer as it was open to all of any faith and none.
The Northern Territory Times and Gazette of 30th March 1920 reported:
April 25 is Anzac Day, and is a public holiday by Act of Parliament. It is really a national Australian holiday. A-N-Z-A.C-Australia New .Zealand Army Corp-a name, protected, honored and revered by the English speaking race because of its connection with the greatest military enterprise in the history of the world. Although Australia had previously participated in small wars in Africa, against the Soudanese and the Boers, Gallipoli was really our baptismal under fire. It was here that the wonderful Australian troops astounded the world and earned the respect and admiration of even the Turk. The world dearly loves a fighter and the Anzac stands on a pedestal right out on his own. So far, there has not been any official announcement that Anzac Day is to be honored by any public function in Darwin. It is inconceivable that the day will be allowed to pass without public notice or tribute locally. However, there is still plenty of time, and it is hoped that the patriotic residents of the town (and they are legion, thank God) will be given an opportunity to participate in some suitable function on Anzac Day.
During the 1920s it became established as a day of remembrance on 25th April to be observed across both Australia and New Zealand and money was raised by service chairites by selling commemorative lapel pins. It is one of these we are considering tonight:The pin is simply made and has a design of a large ‘A’ in front of a flaming torch with the words ‘ANZAC DAY’ around the edges:Looking at the rear we can see the pin is made of thin stamped metal, with the pin soldered to the rear allowing it to be attached to a jacket lapel or a dress:I have been unable to find an exact match to this design of pin, but numerous other variations exist. I suspect it dates from before 1950 and there was perhaps a new design each year to encourage people to buy one annually rather than reusing the same pin every year. It would have been sold in the same way poppies were in the United Kingdom, to show solidarity with those who have lost their lives and to raise money for injured servicemen and their families.
This week’s postcard is quite nice in showing a group of soldiers as they looked on active service in World War one. Most studio postcards are taken of men in their best uniforms, all polished and ironed but in France it was not uncommon for a group of men to have their pictures taken in their everyday uniforms and this helps paint a more accurate picture of what soldiers actually looked like in the field. This postcard then was taken in Paris at some point in World War One:It shows three men of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment and they are definitely on the scruffy and dishevelled end of the spectrum. They are each wearing the utility version of service dress, with simple patch pockets and a less fitted cut, the presence of items in their pockets adds to the crumpled and dishevelled look:Other features to note include the use of five buttons up the front of the uniform, the lack of protective rifle patches on the shoulders- this simplified pattern was introduced in late 1914 to speed up production of uniforms. The caps are also distinctive as the stiffening wire has been removed so they have a much softer and less structured look than pre-war service dress caps:This made them far more practical as they could be folded up and put in a pocket, worn over a balaclava or under a scarf etc. Note also the lack of any brass shoulder titles in the picture above: brass was a strategic supply so efforts were made to reduce its use in non-essential items. The intricate lettering of shoulder titles was also lengthy to produce so quantities of shoulder titles went into decline and often men were not issued them and either had to scrounge some from somewhere or go without.
Boots in the postcard are again indicative of this being taken on active service, they are not polished and are merely waterproofed:These boots look well used and worn and the supply of army boots was a constant problem to the British Army. Although supplies never dried up, many new manufacturers were accepted and often the quality was far less than would have been acceptable in the pre-war military.
This postcard, despite being a studio photograph, ha some interesting features that make it a little more unusual than the normal examples of this genre.
A button hook is a long wire hook with a handle used to help fasten small buttons. Garments of the Edwardian era commonly used long rows of buttons to secure them, as did gloves and boots. The button hook was a popular way of securing these buttons when their size made using one’s hand difficult. They quickly became a popular souvenir item, with the handles made of a variety of decorative materials. Inevitably they were also a popular choice for trench art, the design being simple enough that a well-made product was easily produced. Tonight we have an example of one of those trench art button hooks:The main body of this button hook is made from a German 8mm Mauser round, sadly there are no remaining markings on the base to give us an idea of when the case was made:A hook has been soldered into the tip of the bullet itself:And a British Royal crest, taken from an old button, has been carefully cut out and applied to the body of the casing:It is very hard to say whether these objects were genuinely made in the trenches or not. Certainly soldiers could engrave small trinkets in the front line, and those in the rear had ample opportunity to make little souvenirs, but many of the small objects we find today may well actually date form the 1920s and 1930s. In the interwar period there was a booming tourist market in Belgium and France as British families toured the battlefields where their loved ones fought and died. To meet the demand for souvenirs local craftsmen produced small pieces of trench art form left over shells and cartridge cases that littered the country. I suspect that this is probably one of the latter as it lacks any sort of engraving of a personal nature which seems more common on Great War objects. Nevertheless it is an interesting and attractive little piece and a great addition to my tiny collection of trench art.
Although ear plugs had been issued on a limited basis in the Second World War, it is only in recent times that the military have given serious thought to protecting the hearing of their men and women. Today it is a requirement of any range work that hearing protection is worn and although the government invested in expensive custom protection for soldiers on active service, most of the time simple hearing defenders are issued for training purposes:The hearing defenders are often nicknamed ‘hearing duffs’ by soldiers and consist of two large plastic ‘ear muffs’, joined by a central sprung head band:Pushing the cups up allows the hearing defenders to fold down into a small protected unit when not being worn:The natural springiness of the head band is also useful when they are taken off, they can easily clip round the soldier’s leg so they are out of the way but won’t get lost, other British army examples can be found that do not fold down like these, but this pattern seems to be the most common. The inside of the ear cups have a cushioned foam ring covered in vinyl to seal against the wearer’s ears and further foam on the inner part:This absorbs much of the sound and helps protect the wearer from the supersonic crack of a discharging round. The outside of the ear cup has a gold transfer with the /|\ mark and an NSN number, along with a manufacture date of 2011:As can be seen these hearing defenders were manufactured by Peltor and have the model number H61FA. This model is what is known as a passive set of defenders, in other words it relies on padding to muffle sound. An active hearing defender uses electronics to filter out the noise. The ear defenders are designed to be able to be worn underneath a helmet, however from my own experience I can confirm that this is often uncomfortable and awkward for any length of time as the fit can be very tight, indeed it is not uncommon for troops to replace their hearing defenders with smaller, lighter civilian models and as long as they are rated to the same minimum safety levels this is seen as perfectly acceptable in most instances.
Tonight we have a rather magnificent Empire Day Certificate from 1940:Empire day was 25th May, Queen Victoria’s birthday, and was celebrated across the Empire as a way of bringing the different countries together and to remind children that they formed part of the British Empire, and that they might think with others in lands across the sea, what it meant to be sons and daughters of such a glorious Empire.”, and that “The strength of the Empire depended upon them, and they must never forget it.”
This theme is reflected in the certificate with small shields to represent each of the major commonwealths and dominions:
Note that each shield depicts the flag of the era and is surmounted by an animal associated with that country.
The certificate was given to children who helped provide comforts to servicemen during the Second World War by the Overseas League: Similar certificates had been produced in the Great War. Empire Day took on special significance in wartime and the King addressed his people across the globe:
It is not mere territorial conquest the enemy is seeking. It is the overthrow, complete and final, of the Empire and of everything for which it stands, and after that the conquest of the world
Empire Day was very much focussed around the young and was celebrated in schools as far away as Canada and New Zealand. George McFarlane recalls in his book ‘Behind the Rehetoric’:
Another highlight of the school year was Empire Day, 24th May, improbable as it may seem today. The tradition was for a couple of students to speak on a patriotic topic as a lead up to addresses by the Headmaster and the President of the Parents and Citizens Association. Empire Day 1939 is fixed in my mind as is my short speech, “Patriotic Literature of the British Empire”. Not only did I benefit from the experience of speaking from the stage but also from the discipline of doing some library research about such works as Spencer’s “The Fairie Queen”.
Another child of the war remembers:
On the last day at school before Empire day we had a parade, children dressed in the national costumes of the empire, well as close to them as it could be got, and proudly marched around the school hall in front of our parents, lots of flag waving and the national anthem sung with great gusto. Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day in the 1950s and the date has moved around a few times over the last seventy years. In 2018 Commonwealth Day is 12th March, sadly it is largely forgotten by most and it seems unlikely that many schools will celebrate it with the gusto of their forebears.